Breaking news Tourism Fri, 19 Jan 2018 01:04:19 +0600 60 Kyrgyzstan in photos of French photographer French photographer Elliott Verdier began his career as a photographer with the desire to travel to places he might otherwise never visit and talk to people he wouldn’t ordinarily meet. He’s spent a month in slums with Afghan refugees in Indonesia and documented the effects of coal pollution in Mongolia. What initially drew him to Kyrgyzstan wasn't a story, but the lack of. Verdier first travelled there in June 2016 from the sheer curiosity towards a land he didn’t know anything about. “I think I will always remember the first time I arrived in Kyrgyzstan. It was dawn. The soft pink light of the rising sun was touching the wall of mountains in the south of Bishkek. It was all quiet. Everything there seemed eternal.”

“Time,” Verdier adds, “is a key element in my work. As a photographer, I want to freeze time to keep memories of things, landscapes or people that are mainly forgotten by today’s society.” In some ways, Kyrgyzstan is the kind of place that seems out of sync with the rest of the world. You only need to look at its boundless deserts and pastures, the wind-sculpted canyons and snow-crested mountains to feel time stand still. Until Soviet rule was established in 1918, Kyrgyz people led a nomadic lifestyle. Kyrgyzstan changed dramatically as the Soviet regime brought collectivisation, factories and mines . Besides capturing the country’s breathtaking natural views, Verdier documented the more industrial areas of the country: from Min Kush and Mailuu Suu, towns secretly built in the 1950s for uranium extraction; to the former industrial heartland of the USSR on the shores of Issyk Kul; to the last remaining coal mines of Tash Kumyr, where labourers work under precarious conditions.

“I had a touching and memorable encounter was with an old admiral in Balykchy. He showed us, me and the writer I was working with (Grégoire Domenach), the abandoned port of the city. He looked so passionate about it, still living in it past glory. Originally from Kazakhstan, he studied in Moscow before leading the freight transport on Issyk Kul lake, and continued working here until the USSR’s fall. He has never left. After a few vodka shots, Ukrainian songs and thankful speeches, we finally did the portrait. He put his uniform on and posed for posterity.”

Talking to the older generations who live in these areas, the photographer couldn’t shake the impression that he was travelling through a place forgotten by the rest of the world — he called the series A Shaded Path for this reason. “Even Bishkek, the capital of the country was calm, unpretentious, melancholic,” the photographer describes. Today, Kyrgyzstan is undergoing a new sea change: Verdier met and photographed young people who are building their future in media, music and fashion design. “I spent my days with veterans, my nights with the young people. The more I met the new generation, the more I saw a motivation to discover the world and be a part of it.” The series is dedicated to the older generation who gave decades of hard and dangerous work for their country, and the new generation who hope to take Kyrgyzstan in a new direction. “I hope the Kyrgyz people recognise a bit of themselves in it. I have many other projects on the horizon but I am sure I will go back one day,” he concludes.

Text: Liza Premiyak
Image: Elliott Verdier

Source: The Calvert Journal

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 21:13:34 +0600
Pamir: exploring the ‘roof of the world’ in remote Tajikistan The Pamir — a range of mountains and high-altitude plateaus that stretches through Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan — offers visitors uncompromising terrain, stunning views, unmatched hospitality and distinctive religious traditions. Find out how to get around the New East’s most remote outposts.

A range of mountains and high-altitude plateaus forming roughly half of modern-day Tajikistan, the Pamir entered into the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century, before joining much of Central Asia within the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the USSR, the previously inaccessible Pamir has gradually emerged as a major draw for anyone looking to encounter the most remote and rewarding outposts of the New East.

The Pamir owes much of its cultural richness to having sat on the periphery of empires. Today bordering Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan proper, it has marked the rotating boundaries of various Russian, Mongol, British, Persian, Chinese and Turkic domains. This geopolitical ambiguity asserts itself in the diversity of the Pamiri people — though they account for less than three per cent of Tajikistan’s population (135,000 in 2010), they express themselves in a strikingly broad range of cultures and languages, often named for particular valleys or tributaries of the Panj river.

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    A sign marks the former Soviet border. Image: Josh Nadeau

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    Image: Josh Nadeau

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    Image: Josh Nadeau

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    Image: Josh Nadeau

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    Image: Josh Nadeau

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    Image: Josh Nadea

Victorian explorers were the first to dub the Pamir the “Roof of the World” — its mountains and plateaus form a tectonic knot spreading across Asia through Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush, Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan range, China’s Kunlun as well as the Himalayas themselves. The stark and often impassable landscape preserved each valley’s distinct cultural identity; while regional isolation complicates questions of national identity, at the same time it allowed (and allows) locals more leeway to live distinct lives far from the centre of power.

Combined, these factors mean the Pamir has something for everyone. Cultural enthusiasts are free to take in histories spanning millennia, and alpinists have no shortage of treks or challenging passes. Those interested in Islamic life will find locals eager to discuss the uniqueness of the Isma’ili tradition, while adventurous backpackers can revel in exploring the nooks and crannies of one of the planet’s last truly unexplored gems. But since the region’s richness is matched by its obscurity (and lack of infrastructure), it can be hard to know where to start.

Their geopolitical ambiguity asserts itself in the diversity of the Pamiri people, who express themselves in a strikingly broad range of cultures and languages

Luckily, changes in visa policy over the past few years have made Tajikistan, as well as Central Asia as a whole, more accessible for travellers hailing from most parts of the world. Caravanistan, one of the more comprehensive English-language resources for moving around the region, posts regular updates and keeps track of any shifting requirements. An additional permit, itself a relic from the region’s complicated past, is necessary to enter the Pamir (officially the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, or GBAO) and can easily be obtained in Dushanbe.

Flying into Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, is the usual point of entry for getting to the Pamir and is worth seeing on its own. It’s also wise to load up on supplies in town as it gets trickier to find specialty items or medication further east. Since the Pamir highway alone can reach altitudes higher than 4,000 metres, tablets for potential altitude sickness are a sensible investment, as well as anything needed to adjust one’s body to local water sources.

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    The Panj River runs alongside the road outside of Dushanbe. Image: Hans Birger Nilsen under a CC licence

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    Dushanbe’s central mosque. Image: Prince Roy under a CC licence

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    Dushanbe. Image: VargaA under a CC licence

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    A butcher in Dushanbe’s central market. Image: Ronan Shenhav under a CC licence

It’s possible to take a flight from Dushanbe to the GBAO capital Khorog (leaving once a day for $85, not so much over the mountains as through them), yet the more common way is to go overland. Hiring a car is possible, but if travelling for the first time it’s advisable to find a driver at the bazaar (from $40-60) — they leave several times a day (the earlier, the better) but only as each vehicle fills up. Finding a good vehicle and driver is key: even though the 600-kilometre stretch might not seem terribly far, road conditions vary wildly and the drive can take anywhere between 14 hours and two days.

The route is not for the faint of heart. One’s van might be crowded, temperatures in summer are high and, for some patches of highway, even the notion of pavement becomes somewhat relative. But, once past the initial GBAO checkpoint, the atmosphere begins to shift. Drinkable streams skip over rock faces and everyone stops to fill their bottles. People compare trips and laugh over tea and shared bread. Someone ropes a surprisingly-passive goat to the top of the van. Nearby hitchhikers are invited to weddings, or at least home for the night. Children crawl over you to get back to their seats.

People compare trips and laugh over tea and shared bread. Someone ropes a surprisingly-passive goat to the top of the van. Hitchhikers are invited to weddings, or at least home for the night

Along the way to Khorog people point out the different valleys. Vanj, the first major river gorge, is followed by Rushan and Bartang. From here one can cross through the interior to lakes like Karakol or, with an additional (and easily obtainable) permit, Sarez. The latter was formed by an earthquake in 1911 — given seismic instability in the region, it’s feared that another quake could break open Sarez’s natural dams and jump-start a flood that could reach as far as Uzbekistan.

All these rivers flow into the Panj (which eventually empties into the Amu Darya, the famous Oxus of antiquity), which serves both as natural guide for the highway and as the border with Afghanistan. Khorog itself sits at the confluence of the Gunt river, forming a small delta that feels, especially after the long journey, not entirely unlike an oasis. As the traditional meeting point of the upper and lower Pamir, as well as the intersection of roads heading from Dushanbe to China, or from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan, its markets are stocked with nuts, dry fruit and goods hard to find anywhere else. The city, famous for its poplars, stands in vibrant and green contrast to nearby peaks.

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    Khorog. Image: kudinov_dm under a CC licence

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    Inside a Pamir house in Khorog. Image: Kalpak Travel under a CC licence

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    A traditional Pamir wedding party. Image: Evgeni Zotov under a CC licence

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    Lake Karakol. Image: Ronan Shenhav under a CC licence

With Afghanistan just across the river, questions naturally arise about the region’s security, and these are only compounded when Tajikistan’s civil war, a violent period that stretched from 1992-97, comes up in conversation. The conflict was brutal, with the GBAO joining other regions against central government in Dushanbe. One consequence, though, was greater autonomy for the region, along with official recognition of its distinct cultural identities, which have more in common with northern Afghanistan than with Tajikistan proper. Traditionally, Badakhshan was a region including both the Pamir and North-West Afghanistan — it was cut in two when the borders of modern-day Afghanistan were created to serve as a buffer zone between Russian Central Asia and British India. In fact, Afghan Badakhshan continues to be the safest region in the nation, with a large stretch of the Hindu Kush mountains shielding it from most of the tensions in Kabul.

Much of the visible development in Khorog, from the spacious Central Park, hillside Botanical Gardens and nearly completed Jamatkhana (a combination of mosque, social centre and education space), are funded by the Aga Khan, the leader of the Isma’ili sect of Shia Islam. A minority in a Sunni country, the Pamiris take great pride in their local religious heritage and treat the Aga Khan (whose portrait is found in most homes) with more respect than even the country’s president.

A minority in a Sunni country, the Pamiris take great pride in their local religious heritage

Pamiri Isma’ilism is unique in a number of ways. The region’s geographical isolation made it difficult for initial Muslim missionaries to break ground, and so compromises were made allowing older religious practices to be incorporated into contemporary worship. Mosques are almost non-existent in the region, with Khorog’s Jamatkhana the first official place of public worship. Many traditions are instead centred around the Pamir House, a traditional residential building that draws on ancient fire-worship as much as contemporary Islam. With a skylight, representing the four elements, descending in concentric layers to the five pillars standing in for the family of the prophet, every aspect of the home carries symbolic weight reflecting Badakhshan’s diverse history. A visit to a Pamir House, often complemented with the gift of traditional woolen socks or a skullcap, is often the highlight of any time spent in the region. While locals will often open their homes and kitchens free of charge, it is acceptable to make a small contribution — the economic situation, even with investments made by both the Aga Khan and Dushanbe, is still harsh. $10 dollars for a night, or $15 with meals is a good benchmark.

From Khorog, one would typically take the road leading up to Murgab and deeper into the upper Pamir interior, but it’s worthwhile to take a detour down the Panj to Ishkashim and along the southern road through Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. Ishkashim often serves as a base to enter Afghanistan, either on a full visa (easily obtainable in Khorog) or without a visa for a few hours at the Saturday border-market. To enter, you must give your passport to the border guard and collect it again on leaving. The Pamiri side has no shortage of compelling sites as well: the Bibi Fatima hot springs lie further east and are believed to improve fertility. Smaller temples dot the highway where, over a millennia ago, fire was used in the worship of Ahura Mazda, the main Zoroastrian deity.

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    Murgab. Image: kvitlauk under a CC licence

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    Villagers outside Murgab. Image: Paul under a CC licence

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    The Ak-Baital pass, 4,655 metres above sea level. Image: Hans Birger Nilsen under a CC licencepamir4

  • The road from Murgab to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Image: Paul under a CC licence

It’s charitable rather than accurate to call the highway leading from Khorog to Murgab and then over the Ak-Baital pass toward Kyrgyzstan a “road”. No buses are allowed in the upper Pamir plateau, and conditions are such that the first truck to make it through now stands as a monument. Driving up through the last stretches of river valley takes you past the treeline, until the only visible flora are scattered, low bushes and scrubby lichen. In its final stretches, the Pamir is peak and desert. Cyclists are seen ascending or descending in late summer, Pamiri villages make way for high-altitude Kyrgyz settlements and the few signs that do exist are covered in personalised decals from two decades of backpackers.

Murgab, the administrative centre of the Pamir plateau, is also the area’s only large settlement. Trips to smaller locales like Rangkul or Karakul are common and can be made by bargaining with local drivers hovering around aging Soviet sedans — spending at least a few days exploring is highly recommended, if only to sit with the impression of loneliness only a stark landscape can provide.

Moving on from Murgab means crossing the Ak-Baital pass, 4,655 metres above sea level. To the left is Karakul, an impact-crater lake ranking among the highest in the world, and to the right the Chinese border. The air is cool even in August and, in winter, border guards can be seen on donkeys hauling supplies between checkpoints covered in snow. Everything’s quiet except the wind and the engine of whatever one drives. Slipping through the last pass before the plunge towards Kyrgyz cities like Sary Tash and Osh, if you look back you’ll catch a last glimpse of the horizon, scattered peaks, and drop-offs navigated by Marco Polo sheep — and it really is like being on the roof of everything. And from there, slopes descend suddenly in every direction at once.

Text and image: Josh Nadeau

Source: The Calvert Journal

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 22:14:10 +0600
Tajikistan's adored king of meals Until you’ve sat down to eat this dish together, you aren’t really friends.

Source: BBC Travel

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 09:58:15 +0600
One more mountain-skiing base opened in Kyrgyzstan Bishkek, Jan. 9, 2018. / Kabar /. Opening of the Toguz Bulak mountain-skiing base, which is located in the village of Almaluu of Chui oblast was held on Jan. 6.

Director of the State Agency for Youth, Physical Culture and Sports Kanat Amankulov, First Deputy Head of the President's Staff Mukhammetkaly Abulgaziev, deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh Aaly Karashev, Nurlanbek Makeev, chairman of the Orgtechstroy OJSC Kanat Ismailov, as well as ski lovers and local people took part in the opening ceremony.

"The opening of the base is a huge contribution to the development of tourism, the popularization of mass winter sports and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle in Kyrgyzstan," Kanat Amankulov said.

Ismailov highly estimates the tourist potential of the ski base and makes investments in its improvement.

In turn, Muhammetkaliy Abulgaziev noted that the development of local business is a priority.

"Because, jobs are created for the local population, thereby improving their living conditions," he said.

Toguz Bulak ski center is located 40 kilometers from the city of Bishkek, it began its activity in 1978. In 2003, repair works were carried out on the base, and in 2005 a new cableway was opened. The base is famous for its various cableways among fans of winter sports.

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 11:19:27 +0600
Passion Passport includes Kyrgyzstan in 20 major tourist destinations in 2018 Bishkek, Jan. 8, 2018. / Kabar /. Kyrgyzstan entered the top 20 major tourist destinations in 2018, according to rating of the Passion Passport.

The Passion Passport website says that their team looked through all the stories and images to find the 20 most interesting places to connect. These 20 places can be added to the list, where one can go in 2018, the website reads.

The winners were determined based on the feedback of travelers. The leader of the ranking is the Faroe Islands (Denmark), Pakistan and Iran. Kyrgyzstan ranked 18th. Other Central Asian countries were not included in the list.

"We will be honest: Kyrgyzstan probably does not enter the top of your list. But do not forget that this Central Asian country has a vivid culture and a magnificent mountain landscape," says in the comment.

The comment also cites traveler Pete Rojwongsuriya: "Kyrgyzstan has strengthened my conviction that diversity is a gift. Kyrgyzstan reminded me that although we all look different, we can live peacefully together. Only in this country - Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Russians, Dungans and Uighurs - live under one flag," writes Pete Rojwongsuriya.

Passion Passport in Instagram is included in the top 10 accounts of the world, specializing in travel and adventure.

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:04:51 +0600
Hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan Timezone Junkies published a video about the travel to Kyrgyzstan.

In the comment they wrote: "We made it across China in 28 days and finally crossed in to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia together with some other travellers. Entering Kyrgyzstan with it's green rolling hills was a great contrast to the desert of China where we'd spent the last couple of weeks."

The video is from

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:32:45 +0600
Kyrgyzstan enters top five countries for Adventure Travel Destination Bishkek, Jan. 4, 2018 /Kabar/. Kyrgyzstan entered the top five countries for Adventure Travel Destination, ranking fifth in the rating of the British Backpacker Society.

This list also includes Tajikistan (the 7th) and Uzbekistan (the 19th) from the Central Asian countries.

Pakistan tops the list of the world’s best travel destinations in 2018. Russia is the second and thirst is India.

The British Backpacker Society is a tourist community aimed at studying little-known countries.

Recall that in previous years the British edition of The Telegraph, The Independent and others included Kyrgyzstan to the list of 12 countries that must be visited.

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:25:35 +0600
Kyrgyzstan tour guides receive international certification Bishkek, Dec. 28,2017 / Kabar/. Guides from the Kyrgyz Republic received certification from the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA), an organization that unites over 200,000 tour guides from 70 countries. Thirty-one tour guides received certificates after completing a series of training courses organized by the Association, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). WFTGA certification will help local tour guides to provide international-level service and improve tourism experiences in Kyrgyzstan -- and thus making Kyrgyzstan a more desirable destination for international tourists.

During the training, tour guides learned techniques for planning and conducting guided tours, as well as ways to better research, document, and relay facts about cultural and historical sites. They also had a chance to improve their presentation, interpretation, and group management skills through real-life guided tours in and around Bishkek.

Eighteen of the participants also received trainer status as a result of taking additional specialized training, which enables them to conduct courses similar to those offered by WFTGA.

Tour guides play an essential role in the tourism sector as Kyrgyzstan’s ambassadors to tourists. Earlier this year, USAID’s Business Growth Initiative (BGI) project organized the largest-yet training for trekking guides from all over the country.

This certification is a part of USAID’s broader effort to promote Kyrgyzstan as a tourism destination in the international market. USAID's BGI projecthas facilitated Kyrgyzstan’s participation in major international tourism fairs, invited numerous travel bloggers and media, and trained local businesses to meet international standards. The goal of the project is to strengthen key economic sectors in the Kyrgyz Republic, including tourism, agriculture, and apparel.

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 19:18:47 +0600
Seven wonders of Kazakhstan: Why fashion tourism is booming in Central Asia Stephan Rabimov , CONTRIBUTOR

Over 1.2 billion travelers made international fashion tourism one of the most reliably growing economy sectors last year. The increased demand among Chinese and Indian for global travel and luxury items are helping to perk up their neighbors' coffers. Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, has attracted attention, both as the 2017 World EXPO host and new luxury marketplace. It now has set an ambitious goal of raising tourism’s GDP share up to eight percent within a decade. This figure is comparable to the latest stats for the Persian Gulf region boosted by business travel and the popular resort nation of Dominican Republic. From the Altai Mountains, home to some 600 sacred sites, to the remnants of the Great Silk Road, to the Caspian Sea waterfront, and affordable luxury goods… Kazakhstan has many things to offer to the most discerning of travelers. With about 25,000 Americans discovering Kazakhstan every year, this is a real opportunity to experience an authentic place before the crowds gather at this ancient crossroad of cultures. Here are seven must-see places to check off your Kazakhstan bucket list.



Bayterek Tower

Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital city, boasts fine examples of contemporary architecture. Bayterek Tower, without a doubt, serves as the young nation’s symbol. Conceptualized by the President Nursultan Nazarbayev, its height of 97 meters represents the year the capital was moved from the mountainous Almaty to the plains of Astana: 1997. Notably, it is one meter higher than the Big Ben in London! Its design evokes a great white tree on top of which sits a golden egg of the mythical bird Samruk from an ancient Kazakh legend. The best part is the breathtaking 360-degree views from the top! The saying goes that if you make a wish and place your hand into the gilded handprint on the top platform, it will come true, powered by the Kazakh good fortune and ambition.

EXPO 2017


Astana Expo 2017

The theme of the EXPO 2017 was “Future Energy”. Over four million people visited its grounds. If you missed this opportunity, do not fret. The main pavilion – Nur Alem – has been reopened recently as part of the permanent exhibition space in Astana. This futuristic glass dome is the world’s largest spherical building. Each of its eight floors represents a different kind of energy: fossil fuel, sustainable, etc. If you aren’t afraid of heights, take a stroll on the glass walkway and peer down at the cascading lower floors below feeling as you’re floating on air. There is also a unique Skating Rink to get your own energy flowing!



Astana Opera House

The Met in New York, La Scala in Milan, Theatro Municipal Cinelandia in Rio de Janeiro are fixtures of cultural and urban landscape. Even though Astana Opera House is rather young (it opened in 2013), it has already found its place on the opera aficionados map. Designed by the Italian Enrico Moretti and Maria Cairoli of Biobyte at $300 million construction price tag, its classic look is closer to Bolshoi Theater in Moscow than the famed daredevilry of the Sydney Opera House. The Main Hall has a seating capacity of 1250. Worldwide, there is an increase in popularity of live performances with some prestigious venues like the Vienna Opera achieving unprecedented 99.02% sold-out rates for the season. Hoping to attract globetrotting music lovers, the Astana Opera House repertoire features historic highlights and ticket prices are kept affordable.



Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmad Yasawi in the town of Turkestan, Kazakhstan

The desert sands, the nomads, the mysteries of ancient catacombs… Tom Cruise’s action thriller Mummy made over $400 million at the global box office despite poor reviews proving that public thirst for historical adventures in faraway lands is still strong. Southern Kazakhstan is home to some of the oldest monuments along the Great Silk Road. A day trip outside Shymkent, Kazakhstan’s third largest city, takes you to Turkestan. This small quiet town is home to an exquisite piece of Islamic architecture: Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmet Yassawi. This UNIESCO World Heritage Site was built in the 14th century and has two beautiful domes, the largest in Central Asia. Currently a museum, it draws pilgrims from all over the world. As a bonus, en route to Turkestan, inquire if you can stop at the grave site of Aristan Bab. He was a mystic and a teacher who had received Prophet Mohammad’s amanat beads. Watch out of the free-roaming camels nearby.



Esentai Mall

Millennials are posed to become the largest spending generation in history in addition to already being the most well-travelled. Fueled by these trends, fashion tourism has a new destination: Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital and region’s largest metropolis, is catering to both the domestic and visiting tourists. Esentai Tower & Mall epitomizes Almaty as a world-class shopping destination. It that houses the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a boutiques galleria headlined by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and the Saks Fifth Avenue outpost. If you are not in the mood for a spree, enjoy a coffee and an art tour on the 2nd floor. While getting ready for the visit or just to keep up with the latest trends, follow Esentai on Instagram: its social media game is on point (even if in Russian language only)!




With over $400 billion governmental funds spent each year on tourism marketing campaigns, countries often compete to wow potential guests with appealing postcardimagery. Luckily, Almaty has a truly magnificent backdrop of the snow-peaked Ile Alatau Mountains that are easily accessible from city center. The mega-popular Kok-Tobe Hill allows you to create your own million-dollar panorama pics! Getting up this natural vista platform is part of the fun. The ride along the nearly two-kilometer suspended cable car is smooth and scenic. Kok-Tobe Hill has several fascinating entertainment options, including a hillside roller coaster and live impromptu concerts at the nearby Beatles sculpture. Yes, kitsch R us!




Do you ski? Consumer reports show a decrease in attendance on the slopes of traditional North American and Alpine skiing destinations with Eastern European and Central Asian resorts benefitting from infrastructure investments and changing weather patterns. In Kazakhstan, ski enthusiasts bet on Shymbulak. A town just outside Almaty is open for skiing all year round! There are three ski lifts that reach the remarkable height of 10,500 feet above sea level. Two years ago, it was the talk of the ski world as part of Almaty’s bid to host 2022 Winter Olympic Games. While that honor went to Beijing, Kazakhstan is benefiting from winter tourism boost as it reportedly readies its more competitive Olympic bid again. You can weigh in your own set of pros and cons as you marvel at the view of Almaty, the City of a Thousand Colors, from above.

This article was co-authored with Sasha Lipovtsev.

Source: Forbes

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:17:12 +0600
Skiing dream lines in Kyrgyzstan, the Land of the Nomads Words & photos by Drew Petersen

I lend a hand to take our duffel bags and skis off the roof of the UAZ, a Soviet-era van that reeked of diesel on our ride here. We hand the luggage off to local porters. Smiles and thumbs-up prove to be our best form of communication as they strap our gear to the sides of their horses. I kick the heel of my ski boot against the dry dirt and slide the buckles over to the correct settings. It feels as though this simple act is finally the affirmation that we are indeed here to ski. I’m over 6,500 miles away from home, in the United States, making the last place where I put ski boots on my feet, quite literally, halfway across the world. Now, we are in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation that is slightly smaller than the state of Nebraska, but with a nearly opposite landscape: The country is 94% mountainous.

Five years ago, one of the members in our crew, Stephan Drake (the founder of DPS Skis), traveled to this same Issyk Kul region of the country in the summer, visiting his girlfriend’s family; she grew up in the capital city of Bishkek. After seeing the beauty of the mountains and the skiing potential they may hold, he knew he would have to return in the wintertime. And so, here we are. The rest of the crew consists of American cinematographers Ben Sturgulewski and George Knowles; Piers Solomon, a skier from Engelberg, Switzerland who wields three different passports—he is using his Swiss passport for this trip; and lastly, myself, an American skier. Stephan, 40, has a résumé of ski travel destinations that would make anyone jealous: Argentina, Alaska, the entirety of the Alps… the list is truly endless. Despite this, he always seems to me to be one step behind in his trip preparation, figuring things out as he goes. But this is just the style he’s accustomed to for these global exploits. He makes last-minute adjustments to a pair of brand-new prototype skis that he hadn’t even tested before bringing to Kyrgyzstan, then hands off the last of his gear to the porters.

A shepherd passes by on the street with a flock of sheep. The horses and porters follow suit, upwards to the mountains. Skis in hand, we walk up the dirt road until there is enough snow to ski. I put my boards down, narrowly missing a pile of what the horses had left behind on our “skin track,” click in and begin to ascend into the Mountains of the Heaven—the Chinese meaning of the range’s namesake, Tian Shan.

Along the path of the Silk Road, the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan offered a challenge of its own to navigate and determine just what that food might be.

Manas, an ancient war hero, keeps watch over the country. In the center of the Kyrgyz flag lie symbols representing yurts and the 40 nomadic tribes that used to roam these lands and make the mountains their home.

The cold, dry air filling my lungs felt as pure as I imagine air can possibly be. I was following Ptor Spricenieks, the lead guide at 40 Tribes, the skiing outfit and yurt camp that we are currently calling home. Ptor, a Canadian ex-pat now living in La Grave, France, is a mythical legend of sorts in the ski world and a name all skiers should know, yet few do. He seems right at home based out of a yurt, enjoying life off the grid. He is utilizing a one-of-a-kind pair of skis that he designed himself; dubbed the Wolverine, he says the skis are ideal for the unique snowpack here. As we neared the top of the ridge on the last pitch, a glorious mountain emerged on the horizon. The peak grew with each step, revealing more of the rock, ice and snow forming its formidable but alluring north face.

“Wow, I didn’t know you guys had a Grand Teton here,” I couldn’t help but remark.

“What?! I thought that was the Matterhorn,” Ptor quipped back to me, accompanied by a flashy grin over his shoulder.

Rather than five dice, Stephan only needs to win a game of rock-paper-scissors and he is up first to ski the Yahtzee Couloir. He drops in. His skis—a slightly modified DPS Spoon, similar to, but perhaps more refined than Ptor’s Wolverine—plane out, and he arcs back and forth. A rib of rock on the skier’s right acts as a boundary of sorts, indicating when he should drop back in to the left. He utilizes the double fall line to simultaneously release and generate speed with every turn. Piers follows suit, gliding with speed down Easy Rider, a glorious ramp just to the south that continues for 3,000 feet.

I dropped in to Yahtzee. Each run is a learning process for this snowpack. As a result of the high altitude and consistently cold temperatures, not to mention great distance to any ocean, the snowpack is best described as a meter of facets. I keep in mind the advice Ptor gave me: “Speed is your friend. Without speed, you will literally sink to the bottom.” My movements are light, easy and most of all, patient. I initiate each turn ever so slowly, subtly, then simply surf it through to completion, rather than forcing the radius, hacking or slashing. It’s different. It’s fun.

One ridge after the next, the mountains only get bigger and emptier in the Tian Shan.

Piers Solomon (R) and Stephan Drake (L) make the last push up to the ridgeline to some of the best lines of the trip.

Surfing each turn and embracing the dry, continental snowpack, Piers whisks his way down another line, deep in the Kyrgyzstan backcountry.

The yurts have already proven to be a practical form of lodging, here. A centralized fire burns warm, drying our gear each night. There is enough room inside to take off your boots, sleep comfortably, and, well, not much more. The good thing is, we don’t need anything more for this way of life. Historically, Kyrgyzstan was a land of nomads and yurt-like structures were home to many, in valleys just like this and heck, probably this valley, too. Horses were used to transport families’ belongings (including the yurts) to support the nomadic lifestyle, dictated by harvests and strategic threats. Tomorrow we would again strap our duffels to the horses to transport out of here and travel to another valley.

It’s hard to think that less than a week ago, we were wandering the busy, loud streets of Bishkek, the nation’s capital—a city full of concrete block architecture left over from the Soviet Union’s rule of the region, which ended in 1991. In the rural areas, economic struggles are forcing an increasing number of young people to move either to Bishkek or out of the country, mostly to Moscow, data shows, to find work to support their families. This is threatening the Kyrgyz way of life and the historical culture in the area, which still centers around the mountains.

The blue light of the full moon glimmers off the snow around the yurts, adding to the stillness and serenity of this paradise. I sip on a bottle of Kyrgyz vodka as a nightcap, a cheers to life itself, to this beautiful country, and to the simple, traditional way of life.

Piers traces the topographic lines with his finger. The map is rudimentary in nature, drawn with marker on a spare piece of plywood, but it proves to be helpful. We look up to compare the lines with the horizon above, trying to get our bearings in our new home—a Russian yurt camp in the Aksuu Valley. While only two valleys to the west of the 40 Tribes yurt camp, this feels extra foreign. Vincent and Anthony, two French Canadians whom we have just met, come over. Vincent speaks up in broken English, “Today, just take dees ridge. Eet’s where you can see ebberyting. Ant-ony and I put in zee boot pack last week.”

When the only map is written on plywood, it will do. Actually, this map did its purpose quite well.

Atop the ridge, Piers and I both start to fantasize over the new lines on offer: long, wide ramps that empty into the valley to the west. When we first arrived in Kyrgyzstan, Piers, perhaps out of his own national pride, was skeptical of a sign in the Bishkek airport which read “Kyrgyzstan: The Switzerland of Central Asia.” But now, he seems a little more convinced of the moniker. Milky skies and the end of the day are fast approaching, so we won’t ski them today. Before long, we are enveloped in the clouds and it begins snowing for the first time since we arrived in the country nearly two weeks prior. The French Canadians lead us to the entrance of a couloir that drops back to the east, towards our camp, below. We take turns, making our way down from one safe zone to the next. The turns are fun, reminiscent of the skiing at 40 Tribes, but even more hollow and admittedly sketchier. The faceted snowpack flushes into rivers of slough, propagating increasingly farther down with every ski cut we make in the couloir.

At dinner, Vincent and Anthony share that we are lucky we hadn’t been here two weeks earlier. It was negative 40 degrees every night. Celsius or Fahrenheit does not matter in this instance; 40-below is the temperature at which the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales correspond with one another. For us, it had been balmy in comparison. That night I made a run to the outhouse, sporting nothing but boxers, a puffy coat and a rabbit skin hat I bought in Bishkek. The sky was full of stars.

Back in the yurt, before drifting off to sleep, I imagined the individuals who had roamed these valleys generations earlier. And I thought of those who might dwell here in the years ahead. The history of the nation is rife with change, from being conquered by the Mongolian empire to more recently being positioned on the outer edge of the Soviet Union. The future holds challenges, as world superpowers once again are looking to spread their tactical hegemony into Central Asia because of interests in oil and natural resources. But, perhaps being the Switzerland of Central Asia is just enough of a strategic answer to get by in the global landscape, for now. But, there are issues at home, too. The issue of urbanization is impacting the families and culture down valley from places like Bishkek. Whatever happens in the next 10, 20, 30 years, these mountains will always be the wild homeland of the Kyrgyz people.

The spoils of yurt life in the Aksuu valley were lush and abundant: a Russian swing, wood-fired hot tub, sauna, warm sleeping quarters and a river with fresh, cold water to wash off at the end of the day.

Slava, a man with a kind soul and a smile that wiped away the language barrier. Not pictured are the sandals he would always run around in.

Piers Solomon on the way up. The lines that dropped off this ridge were exactly what we came all this way to ski.

My headlamp and the moon above served as sufficient guides as we made our way upwards, once again. It was the morning of our last day on skis in Kyrgyzstan and the crew was getting an early start to make the most of it. We ripped skins at the perfect time. A golden glow was enveloping the eastern skyline. “Montagne, alatoe,” I said to myself, a small piece of Kyrgyz I had purposefully picked up for moments like this. “Good morning, mountains.” I skied first, relishing the small slope we had positioned ourselves on. Piers dropped next, flashing through the morning light, a trail of glimmering facets sprayed like diamonds in his wake.

Piers Solomon arcs into the first light of the day.

Later that afternoon, atop a ridge, the dreamy ramps we scouted on the first day in the Aksuu came back into view. As I glanced down at the potential skiing zones, an eagle appeared with what must have been an eight-foot wingspan, as big as any I’ve ever seen. It rode a thermal upwards before banking north and soaring down the valley. We continued south, up the ridgeline, and deeper into this land of wonder. Stephan and Piers prepped to drop in on the first two lines and I continued farther.

Soon, tracks that clearly belonged to a cat, likely a snow leopard, guided my way. The snow leopard, whose population in the entirety of Kyrgyzstan is estimated to be in the range of 150-500, is likely the most sought-after, yet most elusive, animal in these mountains—and perhaps any mountains, anywhere in the world. The tracks led straight to the top of my line, providing yet another fresh perspective on the Tian Shan. Countless lines and ramps were abounding and new peaks emerged on the horizon.

I clicked into my skis and looked to the other side of the valley where the sun was now feathering the ridgeline. Soon it would set over all of Kyrgyzstan and work its way west, along the course of the ancient Silk Road, and eventually across the Atlantic Ocean, to home. I pushed off. My skis picked up speed, the wind whisked across my face and I was propelled into the last light of the day.

To climb to the top of this line, I followed snow leopard tracks. Naturally, I left some tracks of my own. — Drew


Sun, 17 Dec 2017 16:51:00 +0600
Tourism from Russia to Kyrgyzstan grew by 15% in 2017 Bishkek, Dec. 12, 2017 /Kabar/. Agency Turstat made a rating of countries popular among Russian tourists in 2017 according to statistics of tourist trips from Russia to other countries for 9 months of the year.

Tourism from Russia to Kyrgyzstan increased by 15% or 199 thousand trips in 2017, and the number of outbound tourist trips from Russia to other countries increased by almost a third up to 31 million in 9 months of the year.

The most popular foreign countries among Russian tourists in 2017:

Turkey, 3.944 thousand (+ 717%)

Abkhazia, 3.493 thousand (+ 1%)

Finland, 2,481 thousand (+ 17%)

Kazakhstan, 2.326 thousand (+ 3.5%)

Ukraine, 1.706 thousand (+ 24%)

China, 1.478 thousand (+ 25%)

Estonia, 1,285 thousand (+ 14.5%)

Poland, 929 thousand (+ 11%)

Germany, 918 thousand (+ 19%)

Georgia, 802 thousand (+ 35%)

Spain, 794 thousand (+ 19%)

Greece, 792 thousand (+ 10%)

Cyprus, 738 thousand (+ 7%)

Italy, 713 thousand (+ 28%)

Thailand, 706 thousand (+ 26%)

Azerbaijan, 567 thousand (+ 16%)

Lithuania, 501 thousand (-8%)

Bulgaria, 463 thousand (-11%)

Tunisia, 458 thousand (-18%)

United Arab Emirates, 454 thousand (+ 41%)

France, 368 thousand (+ 22%)

Vietnam, 360 thousand (+ 37%)

Czech Republic, 358 thousand (+ 42%)

South Ossetia, 332 thousand (0%)

Latvia, 301 thousand (+ 12%)

Montenegro, 288 thousand (+ 8%)

Armenia, 279 thousand (+ 32%)

Israel, 256 thousand (+ 20%)

Moldova, 205 thousand (+ 28%)

Kyrgyzstan, 199 thousand (+ 15%)

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:56:49 +0600
10 reasons why you should visit Uzbekistan By RADHIKA ALIGH

Uzbekistan is exactly how you image it to be – dazzling mosques, intricately carved minarets, Soviet-style buildings and towns stuck in time.

The Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara are crowded with monuments paying homage to its history, tales of bravery, war, destruction and revival. But while one half of Uzbekistan celebrates the ancient trade route, the other is paving way for what’s to come.

Home to Central Asia’s first metro and recently built high-speed train, Tashkent is quickly waving goodbye to its Soviet past as it transforms into a buzzing metropolis where the old meets the new in perfect proportions.

Despite the change, Uzbekistan remains a tightly regulated state and although tourists are largely unaffected by it, refrain from discussing politics in public places. This aside, Uzbekistan is an extremely friendly country with welcoming people, who with their golden smiles are guaranteed to warm your heart.

Silk Road may be the card that draws visitors to Uzbekistan but there is plenty more to engage the curious traveller: the diminishing Aral Sea, arid deserts and snow-capped peaks of Tien Shan mountains. Best time to travel is April-May and September-October when the temperatures average between mid to high 20s.

If you aren't already convinced, here are 10 reasons why Uzbekistan should be pretty high up on your travel bucket list;

1. Silk Road and the cultural melting pot

The history of Silk Road goes as far back as 138 BC when China opened its borders. Over centuries, traders, missionaries and conquerors travelled from Asia to Europe through Uzbekistan and brought with them new cultures, religions and crafts, traces of which still exist.

Visiting the ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva, you’ll find Persian-inspired domes, traditional Silk weaving methods and workshops practising age-old techniques of paper making from mulberry - both of which were brought here from China.

2. Visit a UNESCO World Heritage city

The beauty and marvel of Samarkand is powerful and addictive. It’s home to one of the most recognisable monuments in Central Asia, the Registan – a square with three prominent madarassas. The buildings really come to life during dusk when the hues of the setting sun coupled with yellow lights illuminate the structures. Also visit the tomb of Amir Timur at Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Shah-i-Zinda necropolis and the observatory of Ulugbek.

Mir- i Arab Madressa

3. Travel back in time

Formed in 13th century B.C., Bukhara was once a large commercial centre on the Silk Road. Today it remains one of Uzbekistan’s oldest and most fascinating cities with narrow streets, bazaars and breathtaking architectural monuments.

There is a lot to see in Bukhara and although the sites are only a short distance from each other, give time to truly enjoy this enchanting city. Visit the Abdullazizkhan, Ulugbek and Chor-Minor Madrasah, be mesmerised by the wooden ceiling at Bolo-Khauz Complex and experience the symbol of state power at the Ark Fortress. Spend your evenings walking around its many ceramic and fabric-laden bazaars.

4. Get a taste of Soviet architecture in Tashkent

Hotel Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s biggest city is one of two halves. On one side of the capital, there are beautiful tree-lined streets and a square that boasts the statue of their national hero Amir Timur. Scattered around the square are Soviet and post-Soviet style government buildings, colleges and hotels.

On the other side is a slightly neglected but much more authentic old city, at the heart of which is Chorsu Bazar. Here you’ll experience Uzbek life as it is, with stalls selling everything from fresh fruits to lepeshka (traditional toasted bread). Not far from the dome-shaped market is the Khast Imam complex, home to a mosque, mausoleum and one of Muslim world’s most sacred relics – caliph Osman’s Koran.

Use the metro to get around the city and take special notice of the unique designs at every station.

5. It’s easy to get around

Travelling around Uzbekistan is easier than you think. Central Asia’s first high-speed train will get you from Tashkent to most desired Silk Road destinations in less than 3 hours for little over 20 pounds (upgrade options are available). Book your tickets online to save standing in long queues and leave plenty of time for security checks. Daily flights and local buses also operate between major cities.

6. Handicrafts galore

Uzbekistan is a shopper’s paradise. From paintings to pottery and carpets to dry fruits, it’s full of enticing things that you'll want to buy. The silk fabric of Ikat is an Uzbek specialty and can be found at most bazaars in all imaginable colours. For a couple of pounds you can get hand-painted ceramics or if you’re looking for something unique, get your hands on a traditional Suzani - exquisitely embroidered pieces of cloth – which vary from a hundred to thousands of pounds depending on size and design.

7. Get there before everyone else does

Apart from a handful of locals and the odd tourist, you pretty much have the place to yourself. It’s refreshing to visit a major site and take the time to appreciate it without being pushed along. Uzbeks are really friendly people and although very few of them speak English, they are keen to get your thoughts on their country so be prepared to engage in small talk.

8. It’s not all mosques and mausoleums

Away from the cities, Uzbekistan has a diverse landscape: rivers, forests, deserts and mountains making it a destination of choice for trekkers and hikers. Expeditions can be arranged with local tour operators. Stay the night in a yurt camp, stargaze and live the nomad life.

9. Instagram away...

#nofilterneeded as most of Uzbekistan is picture perfect. From the grandeur of Registan to brightly coloured Uzbek clothing, almost everything you see is instagramable. The ornate blue and turquoise madrasahs will undoubtedly make a few jaws drop in awe.

10. It’s a meat feast

Uzbekistan is a cattle-rearing nation so it’s no surprise that most delicacies include meat. Meals are often over several courses starting with salads, followed by soup, a main and dessert. Try the Plov (similar to a pulav or biryani) - made with rice, meat, carrots and spices, the samsa and shashlik kebabs. Local markets are a good place to try homemade delicacies, sweets and pastries.

Travel tip: Most nationalities need a visa to travel which can be arranged with the Consulate or Embassy. All tourists are required to register with a hotel within 72 hours of arriving in Uzbekistan. Keep those registration slips safe, as you will need to hand them over to customs during departure.


Kalpak Travel specialises in Central Asia. An 8-day Classic Uzbekistan tour starts from EUR 1,590 per person (excluding international flights). Uzbekistan Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Tashkent three times a week. Tickets start from £390 return. Visit for visa requirements.


Tue, 05 Dec 2017 09:44:45 +0600
Coolest travel destinations of 2017 Coolest travel destinations of 2017 by INSIDER travel

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 14:57:23 +0600
Kyrgyz cuisine. Foreigners try meat delicacies Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:05:10 +0600 Little-known Kyrgyzstan through Elliott Verdier’s lens From the series A Shaded Path © Elliott Verdier

Written by Cat Lachowskyj

"The more I spend time with my subjects, the softer and more intimate my photographs become," says the French photographer of his work

French documentary photographer Elliott Verdier’s A Shaded Path highlights the endless paradoxes of a region fossilised by its longstanding history of being forgotten. Kyrgyzstan is a peculiar place, completely landlocked by mountain ranges – a feature that has preserved its culture while simultaneously reinforcing its susceptibility to external domination. Since its official relinquishment from Soviet control in the early 1990s, the country has returned to its resting state of self-sufficient isolation.

From October 2016 to February 2017, Verdier photographed Kyrgyzstan’s industrial factories, embedded in sprawling landscapes that are populated by the touching subjects in his accompanying portraits. Shortly after settling into his daily routine, the photographer began to notice a marked difference between the collective nostalgia of the country’s older and younger generations. Where fond memories of the order that came with being part of the Soviet Union seemed to define his older companions, his younger friends had no connection to an era that ended before they were even born.

“When I travelled throughout the country, I began to realise a large part of the population was still clinging to this nostalgia for the USSR – which is very different from the new generation, who are dynamic and hungry for access to the rest of the world. So the idea for this series really started with these young people and how they said they wanted to be perceived.”

From the series A Shaded Path © Elliott Verdier

The tonality and colour schemes in Verdier’s portraits seamlessly ebb and flow with his images of industrial landscapes and natural terrain. In the town Mailuu-Suu, primarily known for its former mines, a local legend says the first Russian atomic bomb was made with uranium from the region. This and similar stories were shared with Verdier during the portrait-taking process, when the often-tedious set-up of his 4×5 camera created space for conversation. While Verdier is adamant that this interaction doesn’t affect the focal message of each image, he believes that what it contributed was crucial.

Incorporating intimacy is a guiding force in Verdier’s work, and he says he’ll continue to incorporate this sense 0f whispered understanding in his future projects. “I’ve always wanted to go to places that are not well known to people, and photograph subjects that are far from my own situation,” he says. “But my practice has evolved from my journalistic, younger self. The more I spend time with my subjects, the softer and more intimate my photographs become.” This article was first published in the November issue of BJP, which is available via

From the series A Shaded Path © Elliott Verdier

From the series A Shaded Path © Elliott Verdier

Source: British Journalof Photography

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 22:19:18 +0600
This Kyrgyzstan city is using local culture to welcome travellers In the heart of Central Asia’s cultural melting pot, Fergana Valley, tourism operators are working to make local culture more accessible to travellers.

Sample some of the local spices and produce while travelling in Kyrgyzstan. Image by Stephen Lioy

Destination Osh, an organization of local tourism stakeholders in Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and traditional cultural heart, has used feedback from tourists in the 2017 season to hone new tour experiences. They are designed to immerse visitors in local culture and expose them to the diversity of the region’s food, people, and traditions.

Learn how to make some delicious plov in Osh. Image by Stephen Lioy

A free city walking tour introduces visitors to the layout of Osh, tracing more than 3000 years of history from ancient prayer halls of the Mughal Dynasty founders, to towering statues of Lenin and bustling Silk Road bazaars. Extending this further takes guests up Suleiman Too mountain, a five-peaked crag looming above the city whose slopes have been a pilgrimage site for centuries.

Sample some local cuisine in Osh. Image by Stephen Lioy

Food lovers will appreciate a range of new activities focused on the regions’s diverse cuisine – from cooking classes making favorites likelepyoshka bread and samsa meatpies in Southern Kyrgyzstan’s iconic tandoor ovens, to an Osh Foodie Tour that samples four of Osh’s most distinctive foods. This tour also discusses the many ethnic groups that have populated the Fergana Valley over more than three millennia of inhabitation and the cultural legacies each of these groups has impressed upon the region.

Check out the best produce in Osh on a tour. Image by Stephen Lioy

One of the organization’s most popular offerings is the Osh Plov Journey, accompanying local guide Atabek to his family home for a crash course on making plov, a flavourful rice-and-meat dish of murky origins but claimed as the cultural heritage of several of Fergana’s ethnic groups, but at its best when cooked with rice from the fields of nearby Uzgen.

Travel around the city of Osh. Image by Stephen Lioy

The initiative, promoting cultural exploration in an area long known as a traveler hub for tourists heading into China or the Pamir Highway, is the result of a partnership between Discover Kyrgyzstan to encourage growth in the tourism sector, with support by the USAID Business Growth Initiative.

By Stephen Lioy


Thu, 09 Nov 2017 09:29:19 +0600
What Kyrgyzstan lacks in infrastructure, it makes up for in hospitality Melis and Arslanbek Chormonov at the Bosogu yurt camp at Köl-Suu. The brothers want to attract more travellers from Europe and beyond to Kyrgyzstan. Photograph: Joseph O’Connor

Naryn Letter: Mistaking a wake for a market, I’m gifted with an endless supply of food

By Joseph O'Connor in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan

The sun is retreating behind the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains, which surround our yurt camp in the Naryn province of Kyrgyzstan. It’s here that I have a chance encounter with two Kyrgyz brothers whose lives are now very different to the ones they led when the Central Asian country was under Soviet rule.

Kyrgyzstan – along with its other “Stan” neighbours – is something of a mystery to people in the West.

Phonetic challenges aside, the country doesn’t register on most people’s radar. One recent exception came in July, when a news story reached these shores surrounding a picture that Aliya Shagieva, the Kyrgyz president’s daughter, posted of herself on Instagram breastfeeding her baby.

The image sparked a lively debate in the country home to over 5.7 million people, 75 per cent of whom are Muslim. But breastfeeding aside, coverage of Kyrgyzstan has been sparse on the western front.

Melis and Arslanbek Chormonov are hoping to change that. Now approaching retirement age, the brothers once worked as scientists for the government during the communist era. The pair’s position placed them among a small group of elites who were able to travel freely and extensively in the 1970s and 1980s. After the fall of communism, however, the brothers initially struggled to find their place in the newly established Kyrgyz Republic.

Tourism academy

Having identified an opportunity in the country’s fledgling tourism industry, the Chormonovs established a new tourism academy in the capital of Bishkek five years ago. They would use their research and globetrotting knowledge to teach Kyrgyz students how to make their mark in tourism and hospitality. Today, the academy has upwards of 500 students, with graduates moving abroad to gain the skills and experience to bring back home.

ur paths crossed as we explored the region around Köl-Suu, an alpine lake located close to the Chinese border; the brothers examining the tourism potential it holds having read about the destination in an Italian blogger’s post. As we sip tea together, it is not long before Melis – incidentally an acronym for Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – reaches for his smartphone and records our conversation; a case study to present to his students. He wants to know what I believe Kyrgyzstan needs to do to attract more travellers from Europe and beyond.

The Chormonov brothers’ enthusiasm appears to be just one small part of a concerted effort in Kyrgyzstan to help kickstart the country’s tourism sector and capitalise on what it has to offer – unspoiled natural beauty for the outdoors lovers, a rich nomadic tradition to interest the culturally inquisitive, and remnants of a Soviet era for the political history junkies.

I witness similar enthusiasm in the town of Naryn when I encounter Gulira Kenjekaraeva, co-ordinator at CBT Naryn, part of a community-based tourism network which aims to promote sustainable tourism and improve the conditions of people living in remote mountain regions. It’s an ambitious model given that the tourism industry is in its infancy, employing the services of locals – anyone from drivers helping travellers navigate potholed terrain to nomadic families welcoming tourists into their yurt for some fermented mare’s milk.

Kenjekaraeva was instrumental in setting up the first tourist yurt camp at Köl-Suu. “Nowadays, if you mention Kyrgyzstan, they immediately ask ‘Kazakhstan? Where is Kyrgyzstan’?” she tells me in her office as she grapples to control a group of boisterous young Israeli tourists.

“Kyrgyzstan is working very hard to improve its services because here, services are still simple. But tourists accept us as we are, and my vision is that in 10 years’ time our tourism services will have improved greatly.”

Undoubtedly, Kyrgyzstan still has a long way to go. This year it was placed 115th in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report behind neighbours Tajikstan and Kazakhstan. But where the country falls short on infrastructure, it makes up for in hospitality, something I get a taste of first-hand in the most unlikely of manners.

Supply of food

While driving along the vast Lake Issyk-Kul in the north, I notice a large crowd gather in a nearby village. Curiosity gets the better of me and I pull over to take a closer look. Once spotted by the locals, I am shepherded into a nearby house.

Despite the language barrier, it’s not long before I realise that I’ve become entertainment for mourners at a funeral. Guided to a seat beside the bereaved, I’m gifted with an endless supply of food and spend the next 30 minutes negotiating my exit.

While it might not be the most comfortable predicament in Kyrgyzstan to find oneself in, it’s a unique insight into the level of hospitality awaiting those foolish enough to mistake a wake for a market. Unlike the unfortunate soul whose ceremony I attended, Kyrgyzstan’s tourism industry is alive, and gaining momentum.


Wed, 04 Oct 2017 09:36:57 +0600
French operator company filmed documentary about Kyrgyzstan Bishkek, Oct. 3, 2017 /Kabar/. The French company Baka Films filmed an exciting documentary about Kyrgyzstan.

The film was released under the description "Discover the unknown and incredible countries. Kyrgyzstan".

The director of the film Boris Wilmart shared his impressions about Kyrgyzstan. "Amazing people who could save a way of life in nature. A simple happiness is to wake up in a yurt on the edge of a lake in Kyrgyzstan," he wrote.

Baka Films is a union of two videographers - Boris Vilmart and Ludovic Borde, based in Marseilles.

Guys are traveling around the world to make documentaries.

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 15:48:02 +0600
Kyrgyzstan Travel movie collection Video by Freestyle Traveler

Tue, 26 Sep 2017 22:19:14 +0600
Glamping in Kyrgyzstan | Luxury Yurt Tour "Glamping in Kyrgyzstan? Indeed, if one is looking for something a bit more comfortable staying overnight in a luxury yurt is possible at Supara Chunkurchak resort located only 40 kilometers south of Bishkek. After doing our share of hiking, horse-trekking and other adventure travel in Kyrgyzstan coming to Supara Chunkurchak was a welcome stop nearthe end of our trip.

Our luxury yurt had breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks off in the distance from Chunkurchak tract. Visitors can relax and enjoy local food along with kymyz and for those seeking more adventure hiking and horse trekking programs are available. We decided to do a bit of our own hiking and droning with the rest of the time spent enjoying the resort.

This is part of our Travel in Kyrgyzstan video series showcasing Kyrgyz food, Kyrgyz culture and Kyrgyz cuisine," Samuel and Audrey commented the video

Music by Joakim Karud from SoundCloud

Video by Nomadic Samuel

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 21:26:33 +0600
Welcome to Kyrgyzstan - so much to discover! Tue, 05 Sep 2017 17:52:19 +0600 Travel destination - Central Asia If you haven't considered central Asia for a travel destination. Here is a good reason to think about it! This is all footage from Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Video by Nick Funnell

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 12:10:39 +0600
The kumis magic: the power of fermented mare’s milk By Juno Kim

Drinking fermented horse’s milk?

I’ve heard about it. I thought about it. I doubted it. I thought I’d never get into it. And now I’m obsessed.

It’s natural to use dairy products from the animals people have. So, using milk from a horse is only logical for nomadic people in Central Asia.

On our first day of adventuring in Kyrgyzstan, our guide Kanybek told us a lot about kumis and how powerful it is for people with certain illness or problems. We passed many yurts once we were out into the countryside. Apparently, you can stop and ask for kumis or tea in any of these yurts. Ok, why not? We stopped by a yurt in a long, low valley. They had a yurt, container, and a lot of animals running around. We stepped inside and I immediately smelled something funky. That was my first encounter with kumis.

Drinking kumis with a nomadic family

Drinking kumis with a nomadic family

Kumis is made with mare’s milk collected throughout the day. Mares have to be milked every several hours and it only takes a day to ferment the milk. Since mare’s milk contains more sugars than cow’s, kumis has a higher alcohol content (about 2.5%) when fermented. During the fermentation, the lactose is converted into carbon dioxide so it becomes a good nutrition for people who are lactose intolerant. Fresh, unfermented mare’s milk isn’t generally used because it’s a strong laxative. (Oh… and now I’m understanding the frequent trips to the bathroom that night.)

The host mom served kumis on a tea bowl that’s typically used in Central Asia. My first impression; it was so sour. Like after eating a whole lemon, my entire face scrunched up so badly. Then the host offered me ‘soft’ kumis, that’s mixed with fresh milk. It fit to my taste better. We drank kumis, ate bread with kaymak (homemade cream), and absorbed the life of a nomadic family. As I drank more more, I found the mare’s milk a lot lighter and easier to drink than cow’s milk. It was hard for me to finish one bowl at first, but as I was traveling and meeting more nomad families, I was searching for kumis by end of the trip. There was just something about it, it felt natural to drink kumis and eat bread and kaymak.

It's always something the host offers

It’s always something the host offers

The milk is normally fermented in a wooden barrel with big stirrer inside the yurt. One time when we had lunch with a nomadic family in the mountains of Jumgal, we saw kumis being fermented inside of a goat skin bag. That one had a slight hint of smoked flavors.

It was believed that kumis had healing powers in the 19th century. Between Kyrgyz people, there is still a strong belief that consuming kumis is essential to a healthy life. I’m not sure about the medical reasons but it definitely feels great drinking a bowl of kumis after a hard day of hiking in the mountains. Fermented mare’s milk is also a popular drink in Mongolia which is called airag. In Mongolia, sometimes airag is made with camel’s milk as well.

This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer.


Mon, 28 Aug 2017 22:34:11 +0600
Kyrgyzstan where Turkic nomadic culture still lives As the first country to split from the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan is a proud country that still honors its nomadic heritage

"Nobody doesn't like this," is what the gold-toothed man told me. He had just chugged an entire bottle of kymyz, lightly fermented horse milk. All of us had been standing in a circle eager to sample this unusual beverage and had immediately, upon taking a sip, either frowned, gagged or retched [editor's note, kymyz is wonderful and delicious]. It had layers of flavor, each of them completely indescribable and equally revolting. My brother had purchased it from a woman by the side of the road selling it out of a plastic bucket. We applauded the gold-toothed man who was now my hero. He had the fortitude to survive in this crazy country.

How I met my new hero is a tale full of joy and woe in equal measure, of delicious cuisine and food poisoning, of policemen in funny hats and nomadic hospitality. For this week's column I spent 10 days in Kyrgyzstan, driving around in a rental car and camping.

I'd been hearing more and more about this small Central Asian republic for the past year. Other travelers spoke about its incomparable natural beauty. It has a tentative historical connection to Turkey, as Turks claim descent from the same nomadic tribes and traditions that are still alive in Kyrgyzstan today. Although Russian is widely spoken, the Kyrgyz and Turkish languages are in the same wider language family. The country is loaded with old Soviet Russia architecture and the Silk Road caravanserais. As the first country to gain independence from the Soviet Union during its collapse, the Kyrgyz are proud of their heritage. As a bonus, it's also cheap to travel around this country, and I really wanted to see it.

So some friends and I planned a trip from Bishkek to the ends of Issyk Kul, the huge warm lake to the east, and everything in between. We hiked, swam and stayed in dormitories. We gamboled on the prairie steppe and climbed up craggy mountains. What follows is my travel journal from our 10 days of roaming in the home of some of the last the Central Asian nomads.


Kyrgyzstan's capitol gives the overwhelming impression of scrap trash piled in a grid. Construction plagues every other building, with building wrap flapping in the wind. Very difficult to navigate, its square matrix of avenues stretches for mile upon dusty mile. During our midnight drive from the airport to Tunduk Hostel some 30 kilometers away, our driver pointed out all the features of the city: The National Museum, Bishkek Big Ben clock tower, the White House and the Statue of Lenin. Each was either a stack of massive grey cubes, or an empty park. It's clear nobody comes to Bishkek for its historic old town.

We were stuck there three days waiting for our arranged rental car to become available. In the meantime, we tried to explore and mostly failed, since the city's so large. Our hosts at Tunduk, I cannot recommend this place enough, took us out to the rough town center, Chuy Prospect. At one end was Sum, a supermarket with an ostentatious series of fountains and horse statues, and at the other was our destination, Chebak Pub. The food all tasted like fried gelatin, but at least they had a live band playing Top 40 covers, plus a healthy dose of Russian Shanson.

Food was neither incredible nor ghastly. Our first meal was a tasty bowl of Korean Bi Bim Bap at Cafe Koreana. During the Korean War, the Soviet Union split up ethnic Koreans living in the Soviet Union, and resettled them in other soviet Central Asian republics. Our hostel, just next to the Korean Embassy, had a number of good places to eat nearby. My $5 dish of rice, vegetables and pickled things was simultaneously the most expensive and best thing I ate in the country. Another Korean BBQ place burned me, however, when I asked for something like a kebab, and they brought me stir-fried dog meat.

Burana Tower

In the middle of a big open nowhere stands a 45-meter (150-foot) tall brick tower, the reconstructed remnants of an old Silk Road minaret. Burana was once a prosperous town, complete with a mosque complex, housing for traders and walls, but all of it has fallen down over the centuries. Even the minaret has lost half its original height.

We hired a driver to take us the 80 kilometers there for 2,000 som ($30) and wait for us while we explored. To climb the tower, you go up a twisty metal staircase on the outside, and then squeeze through a narrow lightless tunnel inside. Atop the tower, you get a panorama of the great big nowhere and the stone monuments nearby.

The early Turkic people who lived in and around what is now Kyrgyzstan put up funeral monuments, stones the size of graves, carved to resemble great warriors. They look at bit like giant matryoshka dolls, staring out silently across the plateau. Some look noble, while others look quite awkward. All of them hint at a history buried by years of neglect.

Kyrgyzstan where Turkic nomadic culture still lives

Issyk Kul

This is what we'd all been excited about. We began a long trek across the country to the lake, gaping stupidly at the mountains on either side of the highway. We decided to take the Southern route, because while the Northern road has more touristic stops, we were keen to avoid tourist traps, trashy beaches and cops who wanted bribes. The south road also offered the best open empty views.

Kyrgyzstan's highways are where the country begins to make sense. Besides the gorgeous natural scenery, we got a look at the weft of common life here. We stopped at a town for groceries. The locals shouted with joy to greet us and sold us glorious "xashan," soft bread buns stuffed with meat and onions. We saw young men riding horses without saddles on plains and highways, either driving herds of sheep or doing the most mundane of errands. We saw a number of strange cemeteries of hand-built tombs built either to resemble a birdcage or the Taj Mahal. We saw our first yurt camps, white squat domes covered in traditional designs. We observed what we dubbed the Kyrgyz national activity, which was parking a car and then getting a bunch of people to stand around it.

When we asked locals where we could camp, they seemed almost confused by the question. Camp wherever you want, they said. Of course you can camp there. Nomad culture lends a broad acceptance of using anywhere in the empty expanse of the steppe for a night's rest. Our first night was spent in a pasture with a silky river flowing through it, loaded with gray glacial silt. Our next was spent on the shores of the vast lake itself.

Issyk Kul is the second-highest alpine lake in the world and does not freeze. I received competing answers for why that was from the locals, either it was too salty or there was geothermal activity down below, or the glacial runoff ensures warm water stayed on top. When you jump into the lake's slate-blue waters, it is cold on the surface, but gently warm near your toes. Our happiest moments on the trip were spent on the shores, cooking things on the fire and looking at the tips of the giant snowy mountains across the lake's azure surface.


After a few days of camping on the lake we were ready to hit Karakol, an old Russian Orthodox outpost. It felt rural, with handmade gates and unpaved roads. We popped into the Community Based Tourism (CBT) office to figure out what's up.

Across most of Kyrgyzstan's towns, you can find local CBT offices for tours, tips and accommodation. Founded in 2004, it connects travelers to local families and businesses, both to offer assistance to locals and to help tourists get a more authentic connection to the culture. We stepped into one in Karakol for the first time, and it was the easiest time I've had booking and learning about things, ever. The CBT office in Karakol set us up with Guest House Nur. We stayed there for two nights, chatting as best we could with the family, despite a significant language barrier. And at only 800 som for a bed and breakfast, it was easy on the wallet.

The CBT people also sent us up to Jeti Oguz, the "Seven Bulls," seven hills of rippled red stone jutting out from the pine forest, for a day hike. Some incomprehensible quirk of geology spat them out from the emptiness of the steppe crust a trillion years ago. Then locals dubbed the seven hills "bulls" because, obviously, a red boulder the size of a small mountain looks exactly like a bull.

On the drive out from Karakol, we stopped by the side of the road for some eagle time. Kyrgyz use golden eagles and falcons to hunt. I have no idea how it works. I wanted to ask our new eagle handler friends about it, but they kept putting eagles on me and demanding money to take pictures, so we ran away.

Past the Seven Bulls is the town of Broken Heart, where we met my hero, offering pictures from atop his horse. Driven by promises of a waterfall in the mountains, we went 14 kilometers up a dirt road through a rainy pine forest. Soon the forest opened into a wide pasture, a "jailoo," and we could see a plethora of traditional yurts dotting the mountainside. Kyrgyz kids ran around and played with horses and bows. It was summer camp. Up here, wind rippled the grasses and horses' manes. Sunlight lanced across the golden green pastures and drew shadows across the river. We marveled that the locals just considered it a normal thing to hang out in the summers in such a beautiful place.

Walking down the trail, we saw a group of men on horses near a new Jeep stuck deep in the mud by the banks of the river. Clearly they were about to attempt to pull it out. One man stood on the roof of the Jeep, smoking a cigarette, when suddenly he said something and all the horsemen turned and looked at us. We all laughed at the same time, caught in mutual appreciation. Back at the parking lot, my golden-toothed friend leaned onto the car window and got a picture with us. The real beauty of Kyrgyzstan isn't just the monuments, mountains, "jailoos" (summer pastures) or dormitories but the warmth of its smiling people.

Source: Daily Sabah Travel

Sat, 19 Aug 2017 22:44:13 +0600
The coolest campsite ever - Kyrgyzstan Video by Brendan van Son

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 09:52:22 +0600
Beyond The Yurt: Transforming The Central Asian Travel Experience Get lost. This is hardly a goal of any traveler. Most people want to discover unique places without compromising safety and wellbeing. That’s why most cultures revere the role of a guide. The ancient Greeks worshipped Ariadneand her lifesaving thread through the mythical labyrinths. Native American heroine Sacagawea was indispensable to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and formation of a national identity in the US. Contemporary tour guide industry is worth $16 billion a year, a rough estimate on track for substantial growth in the coming years. From travel e-giants like Airbnb launching its “Experiences” portfolio in select most popular cities to breakout startups like Veritamo zeroing in on the elite luxury market, more and more tech-savvy companies focus on the segment.

A hunting Golden Eagle flies during the 'Ethno Fest' festival in the village of Ton, near Issyk-Kul lake, some 350 km from Bishkek, on July 15, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO (Photo credit should read VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

However, if you are an adventurous person interested in “off the beaten track” destinations on a reasonable budget, your options tend to dwindle. Indy Guide is a platform that connects travelers directly with vetted local guides in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Thanks to the Mongolian mining boom and EXPO 2017 in Astana, this part of the world appeals to those who treasure unspoiled natural wonders and historic Silk Road heritage sites, as well as latest tech ambitions of newly emergent markets.

Courtesy of Indy Guide

Atahan Tosun and Alexandra Tosun, co-founders of Indy Guide

Indy Guide started as an idea during the extended honeymoon of Atahan and Alexandra Tosun in 2015. The Swiss couple spent a year traveling in the region reconnecting with Atahan’s Kazakh cultural roots and exploring far off places. Enchanted by the beauty and the people, they launched this project first based on their own contacts and expertise. Atahan was a bank manager for over a decade and Alexandra’s experience with hospitality industry included working at the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa. “For us it is was never about selling tours, but about bring together people with completely different backgrounds. We didn’t expect the project to be so successful so quickly. It just proves people are hungry for authentic travel experiences and that there is real investment in Central Asia,” comment the Tosuns.

Courtesy of Indy Guide

Uzbekistan lures thousands of global tourists with its one of a kind architectural treasures like the ancient city of Bukhara.

Out of all the challenges, re-conceptualizing the image of Central Asia for global audiences was a priority. When the local guides were asked about the biggest misconceptions of their homelands, many came back with one surprising answer: Borat! In 2006, British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen introduced the titular character in his mockumentary: “Borat or Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” A decade later, its pop-cultural impact remains problematic. Despite its satirical nature, the hit film perpetuated a misconstrued vision of the entire region as one “-stan country”. In 2011, American presidential candidate Herman Cain was criticized for his dismissive comment about an imaginary “…beki-beki-stan-stan”. In 2013, US Secretary John Kerry accidentally invented “Kyrzakhstan” in a major diplomatic gaffe. This is one of the most misrepresented parts of the world. It is also home to many of the world’s wonders: the majestic lake Issyk Kul, the vast Altai and Pamir Mountains, the great Gobi Desert, many ancient Silk Road outposts such as Samarkand and Bukhara, as well as the vibrant diverse nomadic culture. Gulnara Apandieva, a guide from Tajikistan, says: “Many people confuse us with our neighbor Afghanistan where things can be dangerous. I am happy to challenge this stereotype, because Tajikistan is safe for visitors and rich with culture where hospitality is number one tradition.”

Courtesy of Indy Guide

Meet friendly local villagers that continue to preserve the age-old way of life.

Over 1000 local providers make Indy Guide the largest regional peer-to-peer network of guides, hosts, drivers and tour operators. This first of its kind independent transparent marketplace features fixed negotiated prices and an honest feedback system. There is simply no cheating; trust is the most valued commodity in this industry. For example, Tashkent-based guide Beck Emirhas sold ready-made tour services to other operators before. The major difference in working with Indy Guide is that it allows Beck to create each program entirely in cooperation with the individual clients. “It is not the number of years providing tours but your passion, knowledge and love of your home that make you the best tour guide or driver,” shares Beck.

Courtesy of Indy Guide

Tajikistan mountainous landscape boasts a variety of wild animals, including Yak (pictured).

Often the quality of experience depends on little things, like knowing simple customs. For example, in nomadic communities, meals may still take place on tapestries on the ground. It is customary for western picnickers to jump across the blanket or step over its corners. In these cultures, this is considered a sign of disrespect and is strictly forbidden. Mongolia is home to some of the most scenic horse trekking routes in the world. However, steppe horses are reared and trained slightly differently from their European or American counterparts. They are friendly and reliable, just used to different handling techniques. Local Indy Guide partner Zhandaulet Erbolat from Mongolia always reminds it’s important to pay attention to the trainers regardless of prior experience with horseback riding to avoid mishaps and injury. Sergey Gluhoverovfrom Kyrgyzstan notes, “The funniest thing is that some tourists expect to see yurts, horses and sheep outside the airport! Then they are surprised to arrive in the quite modern capital city that still keeps its authenticity.” Visitors from global urban centers often misread rural social dynamics in remote areas. One of the common awkward exchanges involves giving money or gifts to children. Children are drawn to newcomers out of curiosity and their families may take offense to such unsolicited gestures. “A kid without an iPad in hand is not automatically a poor unfortunate kid,” stresses one of the guides.

Courtesy of Indy Guide

Mongolian Eagle hunter

World Tourism Organization reports that Central Asia has experienced a nearly twofold increase in international visitors over the last decade. While the exact numbers may not be staggering (the leading designation Kazakhstan recorded about 4.5 million visitors in 2013, a fourth of the Parisian tourist traffic for the same year) the overall trend is overwhelmingly positive. It also empowers local travel industry to mature. Kazakh operator Darkhan Berdirakhmanuly acknowledges that partnering with Indy Guide has been a game-changer for his business: “It affected my work totally. Firstly, I am now an active social media user. I started writing daily posts on Facebook and Instagram, using hashtags related to Almaty and Kazakhstan. Secondly, this is very professional environment for me to realize my knowledge from bachelor degree in tourism management. Thirdly, it is simply a joy!” The company was selected as one of the top five travel start-ups at the World Travel Market in London. It is one of the reasons to be grateful for this initiative that is transforming the Central Asian travel experience both for guests and hosts. How do you say thank you in local languages? Well, a mix of Turkic and Persian heritage has had strong linguistic influences here. Thank you israkhmat in Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek (rakmet, in Kazakh orbayarlalaa, in Mongolian). Now you are one step closer to your own nomadic adventure!

Kyrgyz women wearing traditional dresses gather inside a portable folk dwelling yurt during a folk festival at Kyrgyzstan's Chon-Kurchak valley, some 30km outside Bishkek, on June 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Vyacheslav OSELEDKO (Photo credit should read VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

Five Things to Check Out Before You Go to Central Asia (as recommended by the local guides):

  1. Kazakh singer Dimash Kudaibergenov is challenging vocal range records in his performances, including the famous Diva Dancesong from “The Fifth Element”
  2. The BAFTA-nominated Mongolian documentary “The Eagle Huntress” by Otto Bell features an exclusive girl power anthem track by Sia
  3. A Kyrgyz novella Jamilia (1958) by Chingiz Aitmatov is often considered to be one of iconic love stories in modern world literature
  4. This Madrid-to-Samarkand diary, published in 1859, is still one of the best examples of diplomatic travel writing: “Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy Gonzalez De Clavijo to the Court of Tomour at Samarcand A.D. 1403-6”
  5. Indy Guide’s Instagram highlights firsthand experiences of the nature, cultural practices and everyday life of the people of Central Asia

By Stephan Rabimov , Contributor

Source: Forbes

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:31:49 +0600
The World's Coolest Unknown City? Bishkek Travel Vlog Photo and video by Brendan van Son

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 13:05:14 +0600
Issyk-Kul Lake: Who Knew I Could Go on a Beach Vacation in Kyrgyzstan? What do you picture when thinking about Kyrgyzstan? Yurts, horses, mountains, dusty roads, and perhaps remnants of the Soviet Union? Yes, all are typical things you can find in Kyrgyzstan. What surprised me was the fact that Kyrgyzstan is a country of lakes. There are more than 2,000 lakes, although most of them are small. The majority of lakes are located in the mountains, between 2500 – 4000m elevation. It’s one of many reasons that makes hiking in Kyrgyzstan so satisfying.

After visiting a few lakes in the mountains, we finally reached the famous Issyk-Kul, translated as “hot lake”, also known as the pearl of the Tien Shan. Issyk-Kul has a lot of titles; it’s the biggest lake in Kyrgyzstan, the tenth-largest lake in the world by volume, the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea, and the second highest mountain lake in the world (elevation) after Lake Titicaca in Peru/ Bolivia (elevation).



Issyk-Kul was the last destination of our trip, coming down from a three-day, two-night hike in Kol-Ukok. Sleeping in a yurt for two nights, we were ready to take a jump into any body of water. It was a relatively short drive from Kochkor to Issyk-Kul, taking about two hours on a dirt road.

We had seen the second biggest lake in Kyrgyzstan, Song-Kul, but Issyk-Kul appeared to have a very different atmosphere. Driving along the lake reminded me of a beach vacation. In fact, as a landlocked country, the Kyrgyz consider coming to Issyk-Kul as their beach vacation, because, well, this is the closest thing to a beach they have. The climate here is also quite pleasant. Located in between mountain ranges, the temperature here is always around 25 degrees Celsius, which is the definition of a pleasant temperature for me.



Dipping into this crystal clear water after long days of hiking felt like I had everything I needed right here. The water was unbelievably clear, I could see the bottom far away, which was covered with big pebbles. With the shining sun, a bit of breeze, and clear and cold water, I couldn’t believe a place like this existed in the mountains. I’ve known about this place before I came but certainly, I didn’t expect it to be this pleasant and wonderful. Who knew I could go on a beach vacation in Kyrgyzstan?

The name

Issyk-Kul, meaning warm lake in the local language, was given such name because it never freezes over during the winter. It is certainly warm enough to swim in summer but it’s not warm by temperature.

The geography

The second highest lake in the world after Lake Titicaca, Issyk-Kul sits at an altitude of 1,607 meters (5,272 ft) and reaches 668 meters (2,192 ft) in depth.
The lake’s southern shore is dominated by the Teskey Ala-Too Range of the Tian Shan mountains. The Kungey Alatau of the Tian Shan runs parallel to the north shore.
About 118 rivers and streams flow into the lake but there’s no outlet.

What to do

Swim, swim, and swim

The water is as clean as can be. It’s truly amazing to float on water like this. When planning to visit Issyk-Kul, make sure to plan enough time to just hang out by the water. That’s the best thing you can do here. The lake looks completely different during sunrise, in midday, and sunset.

Skazka Canyon (Fairy Tale Canyon)

The famous Skazka (fairy tale) Canyon is located on the southern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake. Driving along the shore, we passed Arizona or Utah-like landscapes for miles, then entered the fairytale land. This ever-changing landscape has been telling stories for centuries. The colors, yellow to red and orange, were created because of the different chemical composition of the rocks. You can climb any hills you see here to explore different vistas that these colors make.


Tamga Gorge located along the southern shore of the lake, near the village of the same name, and means “letter” or “print” in the local language. Tamga-Tash is a bas-relief stone with Tibetan inscriptions dating back to 8-9th centuries. It’s known to be a common Buddhist prayer “Om Mani Padme Hum”. There is a legend that the famous folklore hero Batyr split the sword through Tamga-Tash, and inscribed on it the number of trophies. The stones are revered by Buddhists all over the world as sacred.

Yurt making workshop

Did you know there are 102 yurt-making masters living in Kyzyl-Tuu village, which has a population of 1400? It’s 30km away from Bokonbaevo. About 80% of the villagers work as yurt makers. Have you wondered how in the world they travel with the yurt and set it up each time? Finally, I got the answer from this 20-minute yurt making workshop. I was stunned to see how genius the structure is and easy to set up if you know what you are doing. Visitors are welcome to tour the village and participate in the workshop. We visited “ xx”’s shop, who made the biggest yurt I’ve ever seen in Bel Tam Yurt Camp. His team of 6 men can set up the yurt in 10 minutes. Even by an expert’s standard, that’s fast. The tour cam be arranged through the CTB Bokonbaevo office in town.

Where to stay

There are many places to stay all around Issyk-Kul on both northern and southern shore. Both sides have a very different atmosphere, the south side is less populated than the north. There are yurt camps, hotels, campgrounds, and many other different places to stay. We stayed at Bel Tam Yurt Camp. I consider this a four-star yurt camp, after traveling Kyrgyzstan for 8 days and sleeping in yurts with nomad families. There’s a hot shower, flush toilet (which is very rare in Kyrgyzstan countryside), electricity, and nice common yurt and bar to hang out in.

#Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

By Juno Kim

Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through@RunawayJuno and Google+ .


Thu, 03 Aug 2017 22:57:30 +0600
World Traveler: J for July, jailoo, and joy in Kyrgyzstan Horses at a summer pasture at Son-Köl Lake in Kyrgyzstan on July 8, 2017. Photo by Bermet Talant

NARYN, Kyrgyzstan – Some people spend their summer vacations on southern resorts and at beach parties. My dream holiday is an escape to the mountains to ride horses on pastures and sleep in a yurt surrounded by herds of sheep. You can call me weird.

You can also call me biased as I’m going to tell you that the most beautiful mountains I’ve seen are in Kyrgyzstan where they take up 80 percent of territory. It is a small landlocked country sandwiched between China and Kazakhstan. And it’s my homeland.

With its rocky canyons, wild nature, high-altitude lakes, and rapid rivers, this Central Asian state is growing in popularity as a travel destination for extreme sports. Every year foreigners flock there to ski or climb some of the highest peaks of the Tien-Shan range over 7,000 meters high.

I also have turned into a once-a-year visitor to that neck of the woods. On my short visits, I usually have time only to see my family and friends in the capital city Bishkek, where I grew up.

This July, however, I had to stay for two weeks waiting for paperwork to be done. The timeout allowed me to take that “dream holiday” and reconnect with some old memories.

Where nomads go

Up until the 1920s, when the Soviet government forced individual households to consolidate into collective farms, the Kyrgyz people lived as nomads in tribes. They were scattered around the territory, which at different times of history was ruled by the Uyghurs, Mongols, Chinese, and, most recently, the Russians.

These days, the majority of the six-million Kyrgyz nation lives in villages and towns. But for one season each year Kyrgyz farmers leave their homes and relocate with their families and livestock to summer pastures – jailoo (pronounced with elongated O) to live as their ancestors lived for centuries.

Jailoo at Son-Köl Lake is believed to be the most spectacular in the country. Getting there from Bishkek takes five to six hours of bumpy ride past picturesque sceneries.

This alpine lake is situated in a valley 3,000 meters above sea level in Naryn, the most mountainous province in Kyrgyzstan. And it can be accessed through the Kalmak-Ashuu pass at nearly 3,500 meters altitude only four months a year. In other times, the pass is covered by thick snow.

It’s a short season from June to September, and the area around Son-Köl turns into the most blissful place.

Despite being a popular tourist destination advertised in any travel guide on Central Asia, this jailoo is surprisingly quiet and empty. In fact, it is so vast that some yurts stand hundreds of meters from each other separated by herds of sheep and horses.

There’s no infrastructure whatsoever. No roads, no buildings, no running water, no electricity, no mobile network.

The only vestige of civilization are small power generators, which most shepherd households have these days to light up yurts inside in the evenings.

Nights at jailoo are the starriest; the air is the clearest.


At jailoo

Our group of Kyrgyz, Koreans, Japanese, and Russians arrived to jailoo at noon. And then until dinner we entertained ourselves as much as urban youth could without internet.

We had a nap, went for a walk to the lake shore, chased lambs and calves, rode horses for a few hours, and played with sun-kissed children of our hosts. Time passed slowly, but we didn’t feel bored.

After the sunset, the temperature outside dropped from over 20 to 8 degrees Celsius. I took a deep breath at the thought of suffocating night heat of Bishkek at 40 degrees. Jailoo was refreshingly cold in the middle of the summer.

We were sitting inside of a “kitchen” yurt and chit-chatting over hot black tea with homemade jam. Then we washed our faces with ice cold water from the water tank outside and went to sleep in our yurts under a double layer of blankets.

Like many shepherds at Son-Köl, our hosts Ishen and Roza collaborate with tourism agencies and organizations like The Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan (TUK) and Kyrgyz CBT (community-based tourism) Association.

A weekend on jailoo with TUK will cost $50 that cover transport, one night lodge in a yurt, dinner, and breakfast. Additional expenses might include horseback riding ($5 per hour), lunch ($4), and kymyz, fermented mare’s milk (70 cents per liter).

Although tourism brings money, shepherds still consider it as a side income. Their main business is livestock breeding. Their lifestyle is simple and busy: men tend sheep and horses; women cook and clean; children help with the chores too.

In such a way, there’s nothing they can offer to tourists what they don’t use or eat themselves. That’s why you feel more like a guest or a distant relative rather than a paying client.

Had I had more time, I would have gone on jailoo-hopping, moving from one pasture to another and staying with shepherds’ families.



I grew up in a city, but I strongly feel at home at jailoo. Colors, smells, tastes, colloquial Kyrgyz language – everything reminds me of my childhood summers spent at my grandmother’s suburban house.

We didn’t live in yurts in the middle of nowhere. But my grandma managed to harmoniously fit the elements of Kyrgyz nomadic lifestyle into sedentary suburban life.

We slept on the floor covered with handmade shyrdaks, ornamented felt carpets, and töshöks, colorful quilts, because when all family gathered for a weekend, there weren’t enough beds for everyone.

Mornings smelled with tokoch, round-shaped bread, and kaymak, fresh cream. Evenings smelled like shorpo, lamb soup, and kuurdak, fried liver and potatoes dish.

Just like on jailoo, time went slowly in our summer house. But everyone, including us kids, had something to do. There was a vegetable garden to take care of and a mini-farm with sheep, cows, chicken, and dogs that my grandma used to have in the backyard.

In the afternoons we hid from scorching heat in rooms with dark curtains that kept them cool. We didn’t have smartphones, Facebook, and internet. In the evenings we ate at one big table, read books, played outside, and talked for hours over hot black tea with homemade jam.

Grandma loved to preach: “Remember your tribe (Solto), honor your seven fathers (alas, I can only name three), and never forget your roots.”

“I try not to, grandma,” I would respond if she were alive now. “See, I always come back.”

Mom calls me a modern Kyrgyz nomad for changing countries and cities. I cringe. To me, a word “nomad” has become a cliché overhyped by western travel blogs. Going to another country for several days isn’t nomadism, it’s tourism.

To me, those shepherd families – real modern Kyrgyz nomads – prove that being a nomad is so much more than a simple act of moving from place to place.

It’s about leaving the comfort zone and making a new home wherever life takes you. About knowing your goals and time limits. About taking only essential things with you. About sharing and connecting with every person who passes your way. About living with less and making the most use of everything you get at your disposal. About hard work.

How to get there:

Fly to Bishkek via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, Pegasus
Fly to Almaty directly from Kyiv with Air Astana. Take a cab to Bishkek.

Nationals of 58 countries may enter Kyrgyzstan visa-free.

By Bermet Talant


Tue, 01 Aug 2017 23:25:36 +0600
Things You Didn’t Know about Kyrgyzstan By Juno Kim

This was my first time visiting Central Asia.

I’ve been hearing a lot of stories because Stephen lived and traveled there extensively, but I never had a chance to visit until now. Kyrgyzstan, the name I can finally spell without a typo after 12 days in the country, is a small landlocked country bordering China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. The Kyrgyz Republic is a great introductory country to the region that broke a lot of my misconceptions. Here are the reasons why.

Diverse nature

Alpine landscape in Jumgal

Alpine landscape in Jumgal

Horses galloping across the vast desert was the first image I had for Kyrgyzstan or any other ‘-stans’ for that matter. The first misconception broke big time soon after I arrived. For ten days, we traveled through some high mountains, beautiful meadows covered in various flowers, alpine landscapes, many lakes, glacial valleys, and yes, desert-like plains. There is so much natural diversity that I didn’t know.

Diverse race

A Kyrgyz woman serving kumis

A Kyrgyz woman serving kumis

Did you know there are more than 80 ethnic groups living in Kyrgyzstan? When I arrived, I was kind of surprised to see so many Caucasians in Bishkek. As a person from a homogenous culture, I needed some time to adjust to the fact that many ethnic groups can co-exist. The Kyrgyz are the largest group and there are Russians, Uzbeks (living in West and South), Dungans, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and more. It’s easy to find foods and products of all these different cultures.


Naturally, diverse languages are spoken in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz language is spoken to most Kyrgyz, but Russian is also used as an official language. The Kyrgyz language was written in Arabic characters until the influence of the Soviet Union. The Cyrillic script has been used since 1941. The most population are native or second language Kyrgyz and Russian speakers. Uzbek is the third most popular language, especially in west and south.

Nomad culture

Yurts in the mountains are quite comfortable to sleep!

Yurts in the mountains are quite comfortable to sleep!

Historically, Kyrgyz people have been nomadic and semi-nomadic herders, living in yurts and tending horses, sheep, and yaks. Sleeping in the ‘yurt camps’ and meeting the nomad family has been the highlight of our trip in Kyrgyzstan. Seeing women milking the horses and drinking kumis (fermented mare’s milk), sharing meals and drinking tea with them, peeking into the life of real nomads was truly fascinating. I also have a new fascination for yurts. Who knew yurts were this comfortable for sleeping? There are a lot of interesting facts and figures related to making yurts which we learned at the end of the trip. Now I want to have one in my front yard wherever I go, becoming a modern nomad!

Dairy, bread, jam, and repeat

Staple foods of nomadic families

Staple foods of nomadic families

How’s the food in Kyrgyzstan, you asked? Let me show you the scene. Walking into a yurt, there was a beautiful low table set up for tea. In the center, there’s a bread bowl accompanying small bowls of two different types of jam, sugar, candy, and kaymak (cream). And then a pot of tea comes. That’s the start of any meal. Then we’re served the main dish, usually made with rice, meat, pasta, or Manti (dumpling). Dairy, bread, and meat are just basic components of their cuisine. If someone says they don’t eat dairy, Kyrgyz are stunned, thinking ‘If you don’t eat dairy, what do you eat?’. I’ve never eaten this much bread, jam, and dairy in this short amount of time in my life. But I have to say, their homemade bread at some yurts was so good I couldn’t stop.

Now is the time to visit

Beautiful Kok-Ukok

Beautiful Kok-Ukok

This is the prime time to come to Kyrgyzstan. The country has been receiving tourists for a long time, especially as a part of the so-called “Five Stans” travels. But in every season there are different things to do and more places to go after being developed by the effort of the tourism board and many independent travel companies. Kyrgyzstan was only popular for serious alpine climbers in the past but now there are things to do for a wide range of travelers like various types of hiking, horseback riding, camping, fishing, 4×4 off roading, and so on. It’s time for you to come and discover yourself what the Kyrgyz Republic has to offer.

#Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer.


Wed, 26 Jul 2017 22:34:59 +0600